04/01/2021 |

Ethically Navigating the Complexities of Corporate Leadership

What does it mean to holistically evaluate the success of a company?

hand holds a compass
Not only moral integrity, but rather ethical integrity, is decisive and the yardstick for my actions: It provides me with thinking aids when I seek answers.

Looking back, 2020 proved to be one of the most challenging years of my career. Although used to juggling uncertainty and making decisions, this time it wasn’t just about being strategically prepared for situations that we couldn’t predict. It was primarily about managing a crisis — a task that is ideally suited to proving the sincerity of the cultural corporate guidelines that we like to present in flowery terms.

As an entrepreneur with a growing number of employees, I am in a constant state of self-reflection about whether my decisions are the right ones, especially for the intermediate and long-term future. On what should I evaluate my options? The numbers that generally document operational and business success have always seemed to me to be an inadequate construct, a metaphor that is unsuitable because it is not accurate. Of course, even the approaches that have followed the growing trend of placing employees and corporate culture at the center of our considerations, and thus defining them as a success factor, represents an equally incomplete formula for ensuring the company’s survival.

Dialectic Combination

Might it not instead be the case that the dialectical combination of a capitalistic focus in business management evaluation and a proportional focus on freedom and responsibility as guiding principles for corporate culture based on the humanistic image of people could offer the chance to implement a holistic, sustainable approach?

But how exactly can this dialectical connection be mapped, and what are the operational parameters that lead to meaningful and clear evaluation?

I set out on a search and discovered a number of approaches that led me to question my traditional ways of thinking, prejudices and points of view. I started to formulate new principles.

Among other things, I was inspired by an encounter: A few years ago, I was able to attend a lecture by Niel Nickolaisen in Salt Lake City in which he addressed the topics of ethics and integrity with their various manifestations.

One important insight I took away from his explanations was that, for many people, it is not exclusively the result that counts; rather, the process that leads to this result makes the achievement of the goal understandable and clear, and thus stands for its repeatability and assurance that ethical principles are practiced. So it’s all about the “how” of achieving the goal.

Everyday business life must be guided by ethical principles.

Why is this important?

Ultimately, I understand ethics as a kind of ISO standard of conduct, but my understanding goes well beyond the guidelines recommended by ISO 26000, a framework for social responsibility. The challenge is less in following the recommended actions than in the way they are implemented. Everyday business life, the decisions that are specific to each department, and above all, those that are focused on people — and the goals to be achieved by each — must be guided by ethical principles that represent responsibility for the company, the environment and society in equal measure and must be subjected to the demand for integrity to create a strategy of ethics.

This is precisely why, for me, not only moral integrity but rather ethical integrity is decisive and the yardstick for my actions: It provides me with thinking aids when I seek answers to questions such as:
• What does ethical action mean when I have no money in the company, or
• How do I deal with my key figures when I notice that the ethical way of thinking and acting is weakening?

These are precisely the thinking aids I need in order to successfully counter the high complexity and low predictability of the cybernetic system of the corporate organization.

Are you asking yourself similar questions? Do you too seek to lead ethically? How do you define “ethical leadership” for yourself?

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